Although most of the members of percussionist troupe Novalima danced during the group’s Black Cat show last week, it was a guy with thick blue-rimmed glasses sitting on a box who managed to captivate the audience.
It was no ordinary box, though -- it was a cajón, the square wooden instrument that provides a thunderous boom and drives Novalima’s pulsating rhythms. The man on the box was master percussionist Juan “Cotito” Medrano, who was stellar during his first-ever D.C. performance.
He dazzled the audience with his precise timing, his hands a blur as they struck the cajón with incredible speed. It’s easy to see why Medrano won a Grammy while playing cajonero for global music star Susana Baca. He now brings his experience and expertise with Afro-Peruvian percussion instruments to Novalima, which is Spanish for “new” (Nova) and “Lima,” the capital of Peru.
The second song in the set was “Liberta,” which commemorates the abolition of slavery in Peru in 1856. The song, off of 2008’s Coba Coba album, is best known for its lyrics, belted out in Spanish by Cotito, which proclaim a black man will be president.
Vocalist Milagros Guerrero was a hit with the crowd, as she sashayed across the stage and got down, squatting and shaking her booty during some of the funkier songs, such as the rural piece “Camote.” The track, which takes its name from the Spanish word for sweet potato, is about using one’s feet to harvest potatoes.
Opening for Novalima was the almost all-female (sans the male bass player) group Pistolera, which is Spanish for “female gunslinger. The group’s name is appropriate because the two most engaging members were lead singer/ guitarist Sandra Lilia Velásquez and accordion player Maria Elena. The two played off of each other’s energy, Elena rocking out on her accordion, and Velásquez doing the same on her guitar.